Soul's upfront lady makes sure she stays on target by taking time and trouble to talk to the people and staying in touch with what's happening in the world....
CURRENTLY enjoying the kind of success that her "Caught Up" epic brought the lady just a few years back, Ms. Millie Jackson — always renowned for being one of the women you can count on for being upfront in her views, straight ahead and always emminently soulful! — comes straight to the point.
"We went back to the concept kind of thing because everything in between "Caught Up" and "Still Caught Up" and now didn't work." Millie's referring to "Free And In Love" and "Lovingly Yours", two albums that didn't exactly tear the charts apart.
"Yeah, they were good — there were good songs in there and personally, I did "Free And In Love" — I think it was a really good album."
Obviously, then, it came as no surprise that Millie's reverted to her tried-tested-and found true formula of dealing with that eternal triangle!
"The ideas came basically from me, from things around me," Millie comments about her "Feelin' Bitchy" set. "It's a mixture of my own experiences, other peoples', just things that happen.
"Now that telephone thing is definitely mine! You know, you get so tired of answering the phone — so I say 'Hello!' like, hey what do you want? — that kinda thing! And then, when you realize it's someone you do wanna talk to you, it becomes 'hi there!' So that part on the album came from me."
Indeed, a great deal of "Feelin' Bitchy" involved Millie's participation. She co-produced the album with long-time collaborator Brad Shapiro and the title and cover concepts came from Ms. Jackson too!
"I figured the title would make people sit up. And then, if they were curious, the cover might get them!" Millie laughs, referring to the somewhat provocative photo of the lady, with lip-smackin' tongue prominently displayed! "And then, if that didn't do the trick, I figured the music would!"
Whatever it was, "Feelin' Bitchy" already looks as if it might surpass the gold album "Caught Up" in response and may well prove to be Millie's first real crossover album.
"There's no doubt that getting a crossover record does help," the lady states emphatically, "In fact, it's almost impossible to achieve a gold single without that happening, whereas a few years back you could do it with the black market alone. I think it's because now, people buy albums."
Millie feels that if her records cross over, "well, that's fine. If I have a tune that I think can do the trick, I'll work on it harder to bring out that potential side of it. But if not, then that's cool. I'm not going to sell out.
"And I won't ever try something for the pop market in preference to staying with my own market, the r&b people. If the crossover thing happens, I'm more than happy."
In fact, the single culled from Millie's album — her version of the Merle Haggard song, "If You're Not Back In Love By Monday" has already achieved such status indicating that "Feelin' Bitchy" itself could become Millie's biggest seller thus far.
"I chose that particular song — "If You're Not Back" — after I heard it on the radio one day. I just went out, bought the record and said 'that's going on the next album'. And, yeah, I kinda felt it would happen. You know after you've recorded something whether it's really gonna make it or not."
Millie actually selected all the material save two songs "Outside Love" and "Loving Your Good Thing Away". "Now that's one song I'll never perform!" avows Ms. Jackson. "The lyrics were fine, they said what I wanted to say but the rhythm track — ugh! You see, what happened was that we's spent some seven hours on "All The Way Lover" and we had to take a break. We came back in to do "Loving Your Good Thing" and frankly, anything would have sounded good to us after working so hard on the other tune!
"It was only when I went in to do the vocal overdub that I realized that the rhythm track on the song was so boring! In fact, it all but bored me to death!" Millie grins. "It's one song you won't catch me doing on stage!"
With marital infidelity being the primary subject on Millie's current album, we wondered somewhat nervously how she felt about the comments from the Rev. Jesse Jackson in recent times about the constant references to "sex and drugs on r&b records". Millie's actual reply was reduced to three words (and y'all can use any amount of imagination you want — they weren't obscene!!), but she elaborated: "There's no justification for him making those comments because, frankly, it's up to parents to make sure if they don't want to let their children hear particular records. Plus you do have some form of radio censorship — they won't play just any old thing.
"All I can say is that when I met the gentleman, I didn't get the impression that he was all that naive about what the world is all about and what's happening today!" Millie concludes.
Indeed, "what's happening today" is something that Ms. Jackson constantly reflects in her commentaries on those particular love situations she deals with on record.
"I stay in tune with the public — that's how I know what they want. I'm constantly working, talking to the audience. When I finish a show, I don't just go off into my dressing room and lock it. I rap with people — find out what they dig, what they don't like, what they want to hear. That's the only way to know if you're on target.
"Sure, sometimes it infringes on your privacy, but once I get home, I lock my door and that's it. People can only really reach me on the phone because not too many folks come out to just say 'hi!'."
Millie now lives in T-Neck, New Jersey — home also for the Isley Brothers, amongst others — and that's probably why she doesn't exactly have constant callers! Spending some 49 weekends out of every year on the road, Millie does enjoy the time she gets to spend at home with her two children "unless we happen to have to go out to record during the week. Occasionally, I'll do a week-long engagement — but it's not something that happens with too much frequency."
Having spent quite a few years on the road, Millie became somewhat outraged earlier in the year at the exorbitant amount of money she found herself spending on transporting equipment by air across the country for her gigs, only to find that airlines frequently lost it or sent it to other destinations. In consequence, she started a campaign against the airlines amongst entertainers, demanding reduced rates and better service. "But I became real busy so I couldn't deal with it.
"However, what I did do was buy me a bus and do you know, I spent $500 less per week on moving my equipment and members of the group from place to place — and that's using eight people now.
"It's especially more convenient because I do a lot of work in the South and most times, the only way to fly is through connections at Atlanta — and the whole thing can end up taking more time, if you travel by air. It's much simpler if you've got 200 miles to go to do it in the bus, right!"
Somehow, in between all the gigs and her own career, Millie has found some time to produce other acts, notably The Facts Of Life. How does she feel about it?
"To be honest, I could take it or leave it," she says with candour. "It's easy working with the Facts because I know them, I know their voices — and I originally started working with them because I wanted to help them. But I've been working with Billy Nichols on a guy called Eddie McLoyd for Spring and that's a lot harder, it's a question of getting accustomed to his voice, finding out what he can do."
Millie confesses that producing needs a lot of patience and whilst noting that Sylvia and Tamiko Jones are about the only other females involved in producing directly, at least in soul circles, Millie says that "it can be a pain in the neck! That's why it's so important to me having someone like Brad (Shapiro) working with me on my own stuff because frankly, it can get to the point where you do something just over and over and I'd be inclined to say 'to heck with it' or alternatively, I'd keep saying I could do it better and that would go on forever! That's why it's good to have someone else there to keep you in check."
Millie feels confident about the future and confesses that there is one big area she still hasn't tackled yet that she does want to deal with "and that's comedy! But then, everything that's happened in my career has really been an accident so I figure that if I'm meant to get into comedy I will, when the time's right. That's really how I feel about everything."
That general attitude of fatalism also sums up Millie's attitude to such things as gold records! "Sure, it's great and I can remember when we heard about "Caught Up" I was in New Orleans and when we got the telegram, I just said 'no kidding'. Then, about three hours later — I guess it was delayed reaction — that's when I went crazy!
"But no, getting a gold record doesn't change my life — I'm still the same me. What it does do is bring more work, make you more tired! And it gives you bigger problems to deal with — well, I should say the same problems you've always had, but only whereas it was just $100 you were trying to juggle around, it becomes $1,000! You're still robbing Peter to pay Paul, so all the money brings is the same problems on a bigger scale."
Nevertheless, Millie's doesn't give the impression that she'd be particularly unhappy if she received another gold album and her only comment about platinum albums is "they don't fit with the gold records on the wall! It's cool if you got two gold ones and one platinum — you can put that one in the middle, I guess!"
Such problems don't seem to really perturb the personable Ms. Jackson and the way "Feelin' Bitchy" is exploding, Millie may well have to find a slot real soon for her first platinum album!
IN CONCLUDING our current interview with the lady, we couldn't resist using a recent innovation entitled "Cross Talk" in which we simply lists ten words and obtains comments from the appropriate victim (sorry, we mean artist!).
Naturally, Millie can be counted on for both frankness and humour and she obliged with her comments on the ten words below (and we'd be lying if we didn't confess there are a few we might have liked to put in — but this is not "Playboy"!)
LOVE: "It's great if you have the time to deal with it!"
POLITICS: "It stinks!"
PUNCTUALITY: "It's great if you can be there on time!"
RELIGION: "I believe in God; there is a Supreme Being of some kind. But the Bible is a nice story to me, It was written by men, so frankly, it's open to different interpretations. You can find anything in there and fit it in to your own convenience."
SOUL: "That's just singing with feeling".
GOLD RECORDS: "Great, as long as you can get them!"
FEMALE SINGERS: "I don't feel anything about them. I feel the same way about them as I feel about male singers."
NEW YORK: "It's great! There's no place like it. It's dirty and filthy and I love it!"
THE PRESS: "It's needed. But some of the writers aren't necessarily needed!"
CHILDREN/EDUCATION: "I have two children and sometimes I really enjoy them and sometimes they're a pain in the neck! Obviously, I love them enough that I didn't go to the abortion clinic when I was pregnant on either occasion.
"But education in this country — it stinks! It's about time they re-grouped and stopped trying to run people through colleges so that they can pick up a diploma just like that."
About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.